Crusaders' Ellis signs with Japanese rugby club
Andy Ellis has confirmed he will skip Canterbury's National Provincial Championship defence and play in Japan later this year.
The halfback, who has played 26 tests and last appeared for the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup final, will return to represent the Crusaders during next year's Super Rugby campaign and try to prove to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen he deserves a place in his World Cup squad.
His commitments in Japan means he will miss several of the Crusaders' Super Rugby games at the start of next season.
The 30-year-old Ellis will play for the Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers club in Japan.
"I love playing for Canterbury and the Crusaders and I would love the chance to represent New Zealand again if the opportunity ever came up,'' Ellis said.
''This is certainly not a sign of my playing days in New Zealand coming to an end, I am just fortunate to have the ability to play rugby in Japan, which is something I've always wanted to do, and then return home to continue with the Crusaders.''
Playing in Japan allows New Zealand players - those who have inserted such clauses into their New Zealand Rugby Union contracts - to bolster their bank accounts before returning to their franchises.
Ellis, who made his debut for the Crusaders in 2006, is a member of the team's leadership group and has long been considered one of their key drivers when on the field.
He said he was particularly keen to play for the Kobelco Steelers, having spent time in Kobe in the past when his parents lived and worked there for three years.
"My family and I just love the city and the Japanese culture so we are really excited about the adventure we have in front of us."
Canterbury head coach Scott Robertson is now expected to rely on Willi Heinz and Mitchell Drummond to be his halfbacks for the NPC defence this year.
"Andy is a really influential member of this team and just such a pleasure to have around, so obviously we are sorry not to have him this season,'' Robertson said.
''However we can fully understand and appreciate Andy's decision to take this opportunity for a stint overseas and the door will always be open for a return to the Canterbury team."
Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder said Ellis went to Japan with their blessing.
"Andy has been such a loyal servant to New Zealand rugby and he fully deserves this opportunity to go and gain some international experience. We are fully supportive of Andy's decision to play in Japan, but especially pleased that he's committed to returning to the Crusaders at the end of his season in Kobe," Blackadder said.
"Andy has so much more to offer New Zealand rugby so it is fantastic that he continues to see his future here. He is a core member of the Crusaders team and we are grateful that we will continue to reap the benefits of his experience, energy and personality both on and off the field."
Earlier this week loose forward George Whitelock confirmed he had signed a one-year deal with the Panasonic Wild Knights team in Japan. He has not been re-contracted by the Crusaders.
What winning margin and team are you tipping for the Super Rugby final?